Health & Wellbeing


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The Heart of the Matter

Tania Mathewson

Dietary fats are not all equal. Untrimmed meats, salami, deep fried foods, croissants, doughnuts, oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mussels), nuts (walnuts, almonds, peanuts), avocado, extra virgin olive oil are all high fat foods. Some of these high fat foods belong to a healthy dietary pattern (oily fish, nuts, avocado, extra virgin olive oil) while others should be avoided or greatly limited (untrimmed meats, salami, deep fried foods, croissants, doughnuts). Some fats support heart health while other fats damage it. Foods provide a mixture of fats – saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) – in varying proportions.

Research continues to support including foods which provide more unsaturated fat (the healthier fat) and limit foods that are higher in saturated and trans fats (the unhealthier fat) as part of a heart healthy diet. The dietary guidelines suggest that total fat intake (which should be mainly unsaturated fat) range between 20- 35 per cent of daily energy intake. This range appears to reduce risk factors for heart disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus and cancer. Healthy fats are vital for heart health. They provide vitamins (A, D, E, K), minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus) and the essential unsaturated fatty acids which the body cannot make – linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid). Omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids help protect against heart disease by reducing blood triglycerides, defending against inflammation, preventing blood clots and lowering blood pressure.

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most studied heart healthy dietary patterns. It provides 40 per cent or more of its energy from mainly unsaturated dietary fat. The Mediterranean Diet consists of a predominately plant based diet including a variety of leafy green and colourful vegetables, fruits, crusty breads and whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, at least four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day, yoghurt, and cheese such as feta. The main animal protein food is fish and other seafood, with egg based dishes, poultry and a small amount of red meat. Food is flavoured with herbs and spices, not salt.



Recently, the National Heart Foundation’s latest position statement recommends, for the first time, that Australians consume only 350 g per week (2-3 serves a week) of cooked lean meats including beef, lamb, pork and veal. This enables more protein variety, with less saturated and trans fat intake, including fish and other seafood, chicken, turkey, eggs, legumes (beans and lentils), tofu, nuts, and seeds, which is in accordance with the Mediterranean Diet.

Finally the myth has been officially busted that unmodified or full fat milk, cheese, and yoghurt contribute to the risk of heart disease in healthy Australians. Dairy fat, although higher in saturated fat, showed no increased or decreased risk of heart disease or stroke. Saturated fat content of full fat milk is 2.3%, full fat yoghurt is 2.7%, and full fat cheddar cheese is 23.3%. Since 2013 scientific research has suggested that full cream cow’s milk does not contribute to higher human cholesterol levels. The National Heart Foundation has now revised its guidelines and placed full fat dairy back into the shopping basket, as there is no sound evidence to link full fat or reduced fat milk, cheese, or yoghurt intake with risk of heart disease for healthy Australians. However, two thirds of Australians are either overweight or obese and it may be prudent for these individuals to choose the lower fat (lower energy) sources to help achieve a healthier body weight, and thereby reduce their risk of heart disease.

Butter, cream, ice-cream and some processed dairy based desserts should still be limited due to containing high levels of saturated fat and trans fats. There is now no limit on eggs except for people with type 2 diabetes mellitus who should limit their intake to no more than seven eggs per week.

With so many confusing, ever changing nutrition messages these days, it is important to receive tailored individual dietary advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). The dietitian will consider your individual circumstances, taste preferences and comorbidities, and provide optimal nutrition advice and care for a healthier you.

For further individual nutrition advice find an APD in your area by visiting the DAA website at and click ‘Find an ‘Accredited Practising Dietitian’ or free call 1800 812 942


Tania Mathewson is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). She works in the community as well as aged care in Canberra and Queanbeyan.